If I’m being honest, I’ve long held a bit of jealousy towards Zoom users (and eventually Google Meet users, too) on desktop platforms and their custom backgrounds and background blurring abilities. Yes, I know the background blurs look mediocre at best and the backgrounds, while fun, bleed into the subject on all sides due to the pitiful nature of most webcams. But I don’t care. Video calls look crappy most times to save bandwidth and these backgrounds and blurs add a bit of extended flexibility to anyone’s home when the need arises to hop in a call amidst a cluttered or busy home setting.
With blurred backgrounds or custom backgrounds, any room can become your meeting room. You don’t need a sweet setup or a well-considered shot: you just need a fun background. Again, we all realize that these faux-green-screen shots aren’t going to win any awards for realism. But, because everyone has embraced this mushy-edged look as normal, it is perfectly acceptable to use an augmented background in nearly any setting, so not being able to do so up to this point on a Chromebook has been a real bummer.
Here’s what is now possible with Google Meet backgrounds
As I’ve been hoping would happen, Google is rolling out custom backgrounds and blurred backgrounds on Google Meet right now for both Enterprise and standard Google accounts. First, it’s awesome that this is rolling out for everyone at the same time, not just Google Workspace accounts. Second, this is now available right in Google Meet without any need of an extension or special setup. It just works and it is really, really fun. Let’s take a quick look.
In this brief video above (you don’t need the audio to see things in action), you can see a few things on display. For instance, at the outset, you can notice that my background isn’t the best for a video call, especially if any of my family meanders through the living room. So, there are now multiple things we can do to alleviate these woes.
You’ll see me add the light blur (my favorite), followed by the heavy blur, and then cycle through a few backgrounds provided and ones I added on my own from a place like Pexels. Simply hit the “+” at the top of the backgrounds list and you can upload anything you choose. This is obviously fun, but be sure to use some discretion before choosing a background in a professional meeting.
I feel like the light blur does the best at looking mildly realistic where the heavy blur and backgrounds have the now-normalized artifacting all around the edges of my face and hair. Adding a USB-powered ring light that you can buy for less than $20 on Amazon did help the cutout stay quite a bit more accurate, I must say. In the end, light yourself as brightly as possible and include sunlight if you can for the best outcome. Low light is the fake background’s mortal enemy.
To me, this is all very impressive and so awesome that Google can manage to pull it off using only web-based tech. I love the fact that this feature turns any space into a workable place to take a meeting and I love even more that it is now there and available for anyone who wants it or needs it. No instructions, no downloads, no new software. It quite literally just works the moment you need it, and we need stuff like that amidst lock-downs, quarantine, and the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, don’t we? Well done, here, Google. Well done.